The Bikinis Are Gone, But Change Is Slow for London’s Metal Boys

(Bloomberg) -- Strip clubs, lap dances in limousines, and waitresses in bikinis. For decades, there’s been a very seamy side to the nightlife at London’s annual get-together for the metal-trading world.

The sexist entertainment at LME Week parties has been chronicled by British tabloids for years, but it’s starting to change -- slowly. At this year’s LME Week, some companies kept the risque corporate events. Others have given it up.

Gerald Metals, which bills itself as the oldest pure physical metals merchant, threw its party for clients and customers at the Playboy Club, as it has done for many years. The London casino is known for women wearing low-cut, black satin leotards and fluffy tails serving drinks and dancing with guests.

The Playboy bash is so commonly known in the industry that it’s included on Metal Bulletin’s roster of "What’s On and Where?" Gerald Metals did not return requests by Bloomberg for comment.

Women in Bikinis

Other companies, such as Wogen Resources Ltd., a small trading shop specializing in niche materials like antimony and cadmium, have toned down the entertainment. In previous years, women in skimpy outfits served drinks at the company’s mid-afternoon Heartstarter, meant to revive traders coming off a long night on the town. “The important matter of waitresses and their attire” at the party was referenced in the founder’s obituary in 2015.

“We have not had women in bikinis at any company function in recent years,” said John Craig, Wogen’s chief executive officer. “We have changed considerably in terms of our make-up and how functions are arranged as we, and indeed the industry, has evolved.”

Still, the debauched nightlife of LME Week, a major networking event for London’s commodity executives, is one of the reasons why the industry is viewed by some as unwelcoming and difficult to navigate for women.

In the year after the #MeToo movement, how companies treat women is increasingly under public scrutiny. Some of the biggest British companies have been publicly shamed for their gender pay gap and major executives were toppled by sexual harassment allegations.

Metals Trading

While other areas of finance have progressed, the world of mining and metals trading remains a bastion of male-dominance. The combination of mining, which historically meant dirty, back-breaking labor, and trading, where deals are often negotiated with a handshake over an evening of drinks, has run as an old boys club of London’s elite for decades, if not centuries.

Blythe Masters, the former head of global commodities at JPMorgan Chase & Co., used her keynote speech at the LME’s dinner at the Grosvenor Hotel, to draw attention to the issue.

“By inspection of this room alone, gender diversity in our industries is unacceptable,” said Masters, who now runs Digital Asset Holdings, a blockchain technology start-up. “Male allies in this cause are quite simply priceless. It’s not up to me to call it out. It’s up to you to believe that it’s worth fixing."

There’s a long way to go. At the top table of 40 people at the LME dinner, only five were women. Masters was the third woman to give the keynote address since 1961.

LME Review

After the Financial Times expose on sexual harassment at the Presidents Club, the LME investigated internally whether anything similar had happened during LME Week events, according to a person familiar with the matter.

While the week carries the LME’s name, it only organizes a few events. The majority of the parties are thrown by LME members, which include big banks like Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and JPMorgan, and other metals industry participants.

The exchange considered introducing a code of conduct for members that would address sexual harassment, but ultimately decided against it, said the person, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters. The reason was that the LME found that the problems tend to be with its members’ clients, often smaller, private trading houses, rather than members, usually larger companies, said the person.

Gender Balance

The LME said in a statement there were a record number of female speakers at its seminar, and it supports Masters’s call for a better gender balance.

“The change is happening, but there’s still a way to go,” said Laura Bell, a metals trader at Wogen. “People like what they’re used to. But it’s important to create an environment that makes women feel comfortable and welcomed.”

Other corners of LME Week remain unmoved. At Stringfellows, a popular strip club, traders milled about on a Wednesday evening, drawn by a promotion waiving the entrance fee and giving a free drink to anyone who mentioned LME Week at the door.

The club courted traders with advertisements of women in lace dresses and red velvet couches through its Twitter account, which tweeted on Monday, “The morning of #LME metals seminar is complete. What’s been your favourite speech so far?"

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.